Supreme Court’s verdicts on gubernatorial elections
Yesterday, the Supreme Court came up with another shocking verdict when it upturned the victory of David Lyon, governorship candidate of the Bayelsa State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) who the electoral commission declared as winner of the November 16 2016 governorship election. Instead, the apex court awarded the victory to the party with the highest spread, which the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate, Duoye Diri, is poised to benefit. For November 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Lyon winner of with total of 352,552 votes while Diri scored 143,172 votes.
The five-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Mary Peter-Odili upheld the November 12, 2019 judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which had disqualified Degi-Eremienyo, running mate to Lyon from partaking in the election for submitting forged certificates to INEC. The court ruled that Degi-Eremienyo’s disqualification had infected the joint ticket with which he and the governorship candidate, Lyon, won the election.
In a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Ejembi Ekwo, the court ordered INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Lyon. The apex court also ordered that a fresh certificate be issued to the governorship candidate with the highest votes cast and wide geographical spread in the governorship election.
The verdict arrives 24 hours before Lyon’s swearing-in ceremony; which had been billed to hold on Friday, February 14, 2020, at the Samson Siasia sports complex in Yenagoa. While the Bayelsa State development remains fresh, the apex court also in its verdict in the Imo State governorship election, had recently nullified the election of Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and awarded victory to APC’s Hope Uzodinma.
In the unanimous judgment of the seven-member panel, read by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the apex court agreed that results in 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during the collation of the final governorship election result in Imo State. Justice Kekere-Ekun said with the results from the 388 polling units added, Mr. Uzodinma polled a majority of the lawful votes and ought to have been declared the winner of the election by INEC. The judge did not provide the details of the new votes scored by each of the candidates after the addition of the results from the 388 polling units.
Consequently, the court voided and set aside the declaration of lhedioha as the winner of the 2019 governorship election in the Southeast state. The court ordered that the certificate of return wrongly or unlawfully issued to Mr. lhedioha be immediately withdrawn and a fresh one issued to Uzodinma as the elected governor of the state.
The Court of Appeal on November 19 had affirmed the victory of Mr. Ihedioha as the governor of Imo State. A five-member panel of the court led by Oyebisi Omoleye delivered the judgment following the appeals filed by the Action Alliance, All Progressives Grand Alliance and the All Progressives Congress challenging the election of the governor.
The appellants had argued that Mr. Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutionally required one-quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, as provided under Section 179 of the Constitution.
The appellants, therefore, asked the court to set aside the decision of the election petition tribunal and declare them the winner of the election or in the alternative order a rerun.
The controversies surrounding the apex court’s verdict in Imo governorship election is still raging as many stakeholders in and without the country have faulted the court’s decision.
It would also be recalled that the Supreme Court, in another controversial decision, affirmed the election of Governor Gboyega Oyetola of APC in Osun State in July 2019. The apex court validated the election of Oyetola as the governor of Osun State when it affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal, which nullified the March 22 judgment of Osun State election petition tribunal. The tribunal had declared Ademola Adeleke of PDP as the winner of the September 2018 election.
The Supreme Court in a split judgment agreed substantially with the Court of Appeal, which ruled that a majority judgment delivered at the tribunal was a nullity. The court said the judge who had read the majority judgment at the tribunal, Peter Obiora, was evidently absent on February 6, following the documents before the court. It said the failure of Mr. Obiora to be present on that day meant that the tribunal lacked the authorities to have given any judgment on the matter.
Two of the seven members of the Supreme Court panel, however, disagreed with the ruling. The Supreme Court ruling was read by Bode Rhodes-Vivour.
The PDP candidate in the September 22 and 27 elections, Mr. Adeleke, filed a petition at the election tribunal to challenge the victory of Oyetola of the APC. The main election was held on September 22 while a supplementary election was held on September 27 in seven polling units. INEC, declared Oyetola winner of the election after the supplementary poll but Adeleke, who claimed he polled the highest number of votes in the election, asked the tribunal to cancel the victory of Oyetola and declare him the winner of the election.
The Osun tribunal ruled in Mr Adeleke’s favour and declared him the winner of the election. In a split judgment of two to one, the tribunal ruled that INEC was wrong to have ordered a rerun election. It nullified the rerun.
The court also ruled that INEC did not comply with its guidelines on results from 17 polling units.
The tribunal then deducted the results of both parties from the declared total of votes in the affected 17 polling units. According to the tribunal, the PDP won the election with 254,698 votes, while the APC came second with 253,452 votes. The tribunal also said PDP would still have won the poll even if it had opted to validate the supplementary election.
But in a contrary opinion in May, the Court of Appeal ruled that “the tribunal was in patent error when it set aside the rerun.” The appellate court, which had also delivered its verdict in a split decision of four to one, ruled that the judge who issued the majority decision at the tribunal, Peter Obiora, was absent on February 6, 2019, when a major discussion on the issue of none-compliance was tabled before the tribunal; and could therefore not have viewed the issue squarely.
Apparently dissatisfied, Adeleke challenged the decision at the Supreme Court.
Another judgment of the apex court that has remain point of reference in governorship election disputes since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999 was the case between Celestine Omehia, a former governor of Rivers State, who challenged the election of his successor, Rotimi Amaechi. The court quashed the decision of an appeal court which gave Mr. Omehia a temporary win that suggested he may oust Amaechi after seven years in office. In its ruling, Justice Muhammad Muntaka-Coomassie, who read the judgment, said the Court of Appeal in Abuja erred in law to have ruled in favour of Mr. Omehia, who the judge said had no stake in the case he filed in court.
The long-drawn case dates back to 2010. Mr. Omehia was removed from office in October 2007 after holding office for five months. The Supreme Court at the time ruled that he had usurped Mr. Amaechi’s ticket for the election, and accordingly handed Mr. Amaechi the top job. Given past court rulings on similar cases, Mr. Amaechi would have been expected to leave office or stand for a re-election in October of 2011, the same month he took office. But Amaechi appeared to have opted to run in April of that year during general elections alongside other governors.